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Peaky Climbers: How eight amateur cyclists became kings of the mountains

Peaky Climbers: How eight amateur cyclists became kings of the mountains

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Peaky Climbers: How eight amateur cyclists became kings of the mountains

164 Seiten
1 Stunde
Oct 18, 2018


Eight friends take on the greatest challenge of their lives, to cycle 20 peaks of the Tour de France in seven days. Their adventure will take them beyond what any of them expected, through epic highs, dramatic lows, unforgettable scenery and the toughest days of cycling any of them have ever encountered. But will they make it to the finish line?
Oct 18, 2018

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Peaky Climbers - Paul McIntosh McIntosh


Col = a mountain pass

It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves

Edmund Hillary

The road rises snake-like ahead, tarmac shimmering and sun-heated in the distance. A series of zig-zags leads steadily upwards, shaking off the clutches of the sheep-scattered valley. Patches of pines stand in isolation as the road emerges above the tree line, vegetation growing sparse between the exposed rocks. Breaths come in deep, steady gasps, filling the head, while hearts thud in ears. Thighs burn and feet spin, hands grip bars, dragging the body upwards. As the incline steepens the chain clunks heavily into the lowest gear; the only tactic that remains is to stand in the pedals, the full force of the body striving upwards, running on the bike, the frame swaying in a broken rhythm beneath.

The view opens up as the rider ventures ever higher, peaks on all sides, a sprinkling of snow on the tallest, a scene of breathtaking grandeur. It is humbling to creep through such landscapes, and all thoughts of proving strength and satisfying the ego are lost: it is in climbing mountains that we discover how insignificant we really are.

There are two choices: to maintain the upward trajectory or turn around and retreat. In edging beyond the comfort zone we stretch ourselves, learn our true limits, expand our physical, mental and emotional capabilities. It is more than simply reaching the peak: climbing mirrors how we tackle the challenges of our daily lives, chipping away at those seemingly insurmountable problems, persevering, breaking the task into manageable chunks, dealing with the immediate as it approaches. In return we gain satisfaction, freedom and an overwhelming sense of achievement.

The magnificence of the mountains has called people from age to age, from explorer to tourist, adventurer to sportsman. There is so much that is unique about such landscapes, a place where the view evolves with each mile, where upward effort is followed by freewheeling reward, where the lack of human habitation means slopes teem with wildlife. Full of beauty, and of indescribable scale, this presents the ultimate challenge: those who climb mountains can do anything.

Day One

Luz-Saint-Sauveur – Luz-Saint-Sauveur

Distance 94km Elevation gain 3553m

The Tour de France has always been an item in the sporting calendar that grabs my attention. All sports do, really: football to re-live my ‘glory’ days of managing a local amateur team; cricket because my dad was always dragging us to his matches when we were young; rugby because of the bullish but gentlemanly teamwork on display. But cycling is different. There is something entrancing about a group of athletes racing through the stunning landscape of France, an element of danger, tactics and skill, but above all a huge show of strength. It is incredibly impressive, multi-day racing, to hit the road at speed and to sustain it for days on end. And the mountain climbs – those are something else. Watching riders ascend grabs me more than any of the rest of it. You can see the pain etched on their faces, you can see the exhaustion rolling through their bodies yet still they climb, determined not to let the slope beat them. Something in me wanted a piece of it.

A sports enthusiast, I played football well into my forties, tried my hand at running, then turned to golf when middle-age spread hit. I never saw myself as a cyclist. But in my mid-forties, I took part in the London 100 sportive; raising money by riding a bike seemed to be the done thing. It was bloody tough but I actually enjoyed it. So I joined the local social cycling club and caught the bug. Fast forward four years and, with seven others who have become dear friends as we’ve made our preparations, we’re about to take on the most difficult challenge any of us has ever faced: to cycle 20 peaks of the Tour de France in seven days.

So, picture the professional peloton. Matching jerseys, off the scale expensive bikes, in their team the climber, the sprinter, the general dogsbody or domestique. All at the absolute peak of fitness, primed for the task ahead, accompanied by an entourage of support vehicles, nutritionists, coaches, mechanics, spare wheels, spare bikes, and a carefully calculated daily allowance of calories. It might be supposed, then, that the mountains are the domain only of riders whose Lycra doesn’t sag around a midriff, whose training regime wasn’t made up in the pub, and who have spent months in high altitudes acclimatising and preparing. Enter the Peaky Climbers.

Introducing the team we have:

Mark ‘Cricky’ Crick, a big-hearted bear of a guy, the kind whose smile never leaves his rough-shaven face – especially if it’s on camera. Never short on confidence, he’s a nifty climber and generally strong cyclist, and is the joker of the bunch, though the joke is often on him.

Allen Stacey, a pocket rocket and a true gentleman who will always put the needs of the team before his own. Allen has been assigned the role of Head Mechanic and Health and Safety officer.

John ‘JB’ Boaler, a Tigger-like character with massive energy and boundless enthusiasm. He maintains that the mid-ride pint makes him a better cyclist.

Simon Haly, a pub landlord who brims with enthusiasm and humour. At several stone heavier than Chris Froome he’s not a natural climber but is a hurricane on the descents.

Ben Heavers, at 34 years old the youngest of the team, even less built for climbing than Simon but with more willpower to reach the peak than any of us.

Neil ‘Nobby’ Barson, our poster boy. He’s the top climber among us, and would be in the polka dot jersey if it weren’t for the late addition of…

Graham Cherrill, the most capable cyclist of us all. Any opportunity for a long bike ride or a challenge, he’s there, especially if there’s a glass of red to be enjoyed at the end. We’ve appointed Graham as our domestique, essentially riding to help the rest of us out – there’s no point in making it any easier on him than it needs to be.

And finally, me, Paul ‘Macca’ McIntosh, the one who hoodwinked all the guys into this in the first place. Team skipper but by no means the best cyclist, I can just about keep up with the fellas, though I do like a climb.

At least we have the matching jerseys.

It is often said that getting to the start line is the most difficult part of any challenge. Since the idea first came into my head, it has been two years of dreaming, 18 months of planning and a solid year of training, tears, tensions, pains, strains, neglected wives and re-prioritised lives. But here we are, in southern France, about to embark upon our pilgrimage. Part of my thought process is of disbelief. At so many points I had feared we wouldn’t make it, had worried that the task I had set us all was too much. But overwhelmingly it is of gratification: despite all the doubters, despite the fact that not one of our team has ever done anything of this magnitude before, we are here. All the preparation has been done: now we just have to go out there and ride. Though not a particularly emotional guy, there is a definite lump in my throat as we line up for the photograph. I couldn’t be more proud.

Mark seems to have forgotten his kit: he is dressed in a short-sleeved jersey, fingerless gloves and the smallest cycling shorts the world has ever seen.

‘What’s with the speedos, Cricky?’

‘Best thing for this weather, mate.’

The sky hangs heavy with clouds, the road dotted with puddles from the overnight rainfall.

‘Skin’s waterproof, I suppose.’

We tease Mark for a while over his kit selection until I bring them all to attention with, ‘OK Peaky Climbers, it’s time.’

One by one bicycles are mounted, and with feet clipped, we roll into the valley. Thirty seconds later the rain starts.

This is not what we had imagined when we signed up to a South of France challenge, but at this stage, nothing can dampen our spirits. Our wheels glide over the glistening tarmac as we ride into the downpour, with a sense of ‘bring it on’. Peaks rise in all directions, a corrugated skyline of mountains, some completely covered with mist, some with slopes visible through the clouds. The land surrounding the river is a rich green, a mass of vegetation which creeps upwards onto lower slopes swathed in conifers and beech. Ahead, way in the distance, are the mountains that will be climbed over the course of the next few days.

It’s 17 kilometres to the foot of the first climb: Hautacam, meaning High Land. We charge down the road like a raucous group of lads at a party, jeering, laughing, joking with each other, affectionate insults flowing as fast as our wheels. All the while the rain hammers, soaking us through, with a smattering of wind added for extra spice. Arms and thighs take the hit as mudguard-free tyres spin down the road, the verge surging with water, eyes blinking against the spray. The rain lends a grey tinge to the countryside as we follow the river, ticking off the kilometres until the road will rise up to the first mountain climb. It’s stoic riding, ignoring the downpour, though not even banter can stave off the cold.

‘I think there’s something wrong with my bike,’ says Graham. ‘It’s wobbling.’

‘That’s you shivering.’

‘I’m freezing already and we haven’t even started climbing!’ says Nobby. ‘How are we going to last seven days of this?’

‘Forget the Hautacam; we have to get up Tourmalet tomorrow!’

‘One climb at a time, fellas,’ I say, adapting a line from my football managing days. ‘Take it one climb at a time.’

‘Come on,’ says Mark,

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